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Bridge to Ashland, Ky., may remain closed over the holiday

ASHLAND, Ky. — To say the traffic Thursday in Ironton was heavier than normal may be a bit of an understatement.

By lunchtime, South Fourth Street was backed up with cars trying to make the left turn onto Adams Street to get to the Ironton-Russell Bridge, the nearest avenue crossing over the Ohio River because of the morning closure of the Ben Williamson Memorial Bridge.

The one-way span that connects to Ashland at 12th Street was shut down as a safety precaution after the structure suffered damage from a recent automobile crash.

Those hoping for a quick fix for the Memorial Day weekend may be left disappointed.

Allen Blair, public information officer with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 9, said Tri-State residents should plan for the bridge to remain closed for the holiday.

“Essentially right now, our priority is to get this bridge opened up to as much traffic as possible as quickly as possible. And that may not happen for the Memorial Day weekend,” Blair said. “If we happen to work something out then that would be great but in the meantime, people should plan for it to be closed.”

The bridge sustained damage Tuesday when the span was struck by a vehicle on the Ohio approach. Inspectors responded to examine the damaged steel beams and determined that the bridge could remain open to traffic but that the weight of vehicles crossing the bridge would be restricted to 10 tons.

Despite the weight restriction, Blair said heavy vehicles continued to use the bridge, prompting the Thursday morning closure.

“We watched the traffic and continued to do an analysis of the bridge from an engineering standpoint and what happens when traffic crosses it, what happens to the bridge and to the damaged beam,” Blair said. “What we found was that the risk was too much. We saw some truck traffic go across it that was greater than 10 tons. The safest course of action was to close the bridge.”

In addition to a permanent repair plan, the KYTC is looking at several short-term fixes, Blair said.

One option would be to make the Simeon Willis Memorial Bridge two directions, but Blair said that would take time to implement.

“It would take longer to set up, plus, what kind of issues would that involve in terms of traffic and safety as well as, are there any other solutions that might work?” Blair said.

Another option would be to re-open the 12th Street Bridge to passenger cars only and somehow block any traffic that is more than 10 tons.

For now, traffic may detour using several routes to reach Ashland:

— From Portsmouth, east on U.S. 52, cross the Jesse Stuart Memorial Bridge at Greenup, Ky., to U.S. 23 south.

— From Chesapeake, west on U.S. 52, cross the Nick Joe Rahall II bridge at Huntington, W.Va., to I-64 west to U.S. 23 north.

— From Ironton, cross the Ironton-Russell Bridge in downtown Ironton to connect with U.S. 23 near Russell.